‘Aquaman’ Star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II Says Acting in Movies Like ‘Aquaman’ Is ‘Clown Work’

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s career thus far has included an Emmy-winning turn on HBO’s “Watchmen,” awards buzz for playing Bobby Seale in “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and movies like “Candyman,” “Aquaman” and “The Matrix Resurrections.” Such an eclectic balance of film and TV projects is the result of Abdul-Mateen’s curation, as he’s made it a priority to balance out comic book tentpoles like “Aquaman” with more serious dramatic fare. The actor recently told Vulture that acting in a movie like “Aquaman” is “clown work,” so it’s important for him to flex his acting muscles in other projects.

“Everything should be about getting to the truth. But sometimes you got to know which movie or genre you’re in,” Abdul-Mateen said. “Something like ‘Aquaman,’ that’s clown work. ‘Aquaman’ is not ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7.’ You have got to get over yourself.”

The actor added, “In order to survive [as an actor] and to do it well, you have to play that game and then be crafty about when you want to surprise the audience, the director, or yourself with a little bit of ‘Wow, I didn’t expect to see a Chekhovian thing or August Wilson and Aquaman, but I did.’”

Abdul-Mateen starred opposite Jason Momoa in the DC tentpole “Aquaman” as David Kane / Manta, a character he will be reprising in the upcoming sequel, “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.” The first movie grossed over $1 billion at the worldwide box office, becoming the first Warner Bros./DC movie to do so following Christopher Nolan’s last two Batman movies. The sequel won’t be released until December 2023.

While Abdul-Mateen called acting in “Aquaman” “clown work,” other actors have been left more rattled by starring in comic book tentpoles. Jake Gyllenhaal, who played the villain Mysterio in “Spider Man: Far From Home,” had panic attacks on set because acting in such a genre film proved harder than expected.

“It’s hard, man. That acting is hard. All of it,” Gyllenhaal told Howard Stern in October 2021. “That world is enormous. And I joined that world way into that run; a train that was already moving. Normally, I come in way early on and I get to figure it out…I was freaking out. It was a scene with [Samuel L] Jackson, Tom [Holland]…there were a number of actors in that scene. And I remember not being able to remember my lines. I was the wooden board. And they were like, ‘Whoa’.”

To balance out his work on “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” Abdul-Mateen is next gearing up to take Broadway by storm with a role in “Topdog/Underdog,” the Pulitzer-winning Suzan-Lori Parks play.

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